8 Oct 2016

Avoiding mid-air collisions: the Budgie Paradox

From This Way Up, 12:40 pm on 8 October 2016
No budgies will collide in this picture

No budgies will collide in this picture Photo: (Flickr user Jim Bendon CC BY-SA 2.0)

Do budgies ever collide in mid air? Well apparently not. And researchers working in Australia are hoping to translate this knowledge into better anti-collision systems for aircraft and drones. 

The study is being backed by the major US aircraft manufacturer Boeing: its records show that 163 people have lost their lives due to mid-air collisions or near mid-air collisions involving its aircraft over the past decade.

To do the work Professor Mandyam (Srini) Srinivasan from the University of Queensland recruited a high-flying team of 10 budgies including Drongo, Milkyway, Blackhole, Tian and Rama and saw if they would fly into each other if you release them at opposite ends of a tunnel. 

The budgie tunnel

The budgie tunnel Photo: (You Tube screenshot)

The results were filmed using high-speed cameras. In 102 flights by the 10 birds not a single collision was observed.

“Birds must have been under strong evolutionary pressure to establish basic rules and strategies to minimise the risk of collision in advance,” Professor Srinivasan said. “Our modelling has shown that birds always veer right - and sometimes they change their altitude as well, according to some pre-set preference.  As air traffic becomes increasing busy, there is a pressing need for robust automatic systems for manned and unmanned aircraft, so there are real lessons to be learned from nature.”